As Pfizer announced a breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19, with the first effective coronavirus vaccine, which can prevent more than 90% of people from getting infected with the virus, it beckons hope in the midst of a global health crisis that has wreaked havoc on humanity.
With the US and Europe currently in the second wave of the pandemic, the vaccine has become one of the most important things the world needs right now. Although there is still more work to be done, the world can’t wait to have it.
The developers, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said the vaccine was tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concern has been raised. That means, the vaccine is very close to being approved and distributed.
The companies said they plan to apply for emergency approval to use the vaccine by the end of the month. But mass roll-outs are unlikely to happen this year and several vaccines are seen as necessary to meet massive global needs.
The developers said they can roll out up to 50 million doses this year, enough to protect 25 million people, and then produce up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.
Covid-19 rattled the world
Although there are still huge challenges, Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said it’s a “great day for science and humanity”, adding that the data milestone comes with “infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen.”
Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University of Oxford said the news brings relief.
“This news made me smile from ear to ear. It is a relief to see such positive results on this vaccine and bodes well for COVID-19 vaccines in general,” he said.
The vaccine became a huge news as it takes the steps closer to lifting all restrictions and opening of businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector.
The data shows that two doses three weeks apart are needed. The trials – in the US, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Turkey upheld the 90% protection claim, seven days after the second dose.
Although available data is not final, it has drawn the world closer to containing the spread of the virus.
“We are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis,” Bourla said.
The emergency authorization that Pfizer is seeking is for people aged 16 to 85. The procedure requires two months of follow-up safety data to ensure that no side effects surface. It is expected to be available in the third week of November.
But US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said it would take several weeks for US regulators to receive and process the data before it possible approval. That means, the November expectation may not be feasible.
However, US infectious diseases expert and one of the leaders of the fight against coronavirus, Anthony Fauci told CNN that “the bottom is, as a vaccine it’s more than 90% effective, which is extraordinary.”
The impact of the vaccine is being felt across markets in the US and Europe. S&P 500 and Dow went up to record highs. JP Morgan and Chase said it expected the S&P 500 index to hit 4,000 points by early 2021. Theme park and film company Walt Disney’s stock went up 12%, AMC Entertainment Holdings surged 51%, but streaming and video conferencing companies such as Netflix and Zoom that thrived during the lockdown plunged.
While the vaccine offers a lot of hope, the question of distribution remains a challenge. The World Health Organization said the result is very positive but warned there is a funding gap of $4.5 billion that could slow access to tests, medicines and vaccines in low and middle-income countries where Africa comes first.
Reuters reported another challenge that could affect developing countries. The Pfizer vaccine must be shipped and stored at an extremely cold temperature. With Africa’s hot weather and poor infrastructure, the continent falls short in the criteria of recipients.
The WHO has been looking for funding to facilitate timely and effective distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to less affluent countries. With its peculiarities, the Pfizer vaccine will likely be administered more in the US and Europe.
Pfizer and BioNTech have a $1.95 billion contract with the US government to deliver million vaccine doses beginning this year. The companies were quick to refute the attempt of US Vice president, Mike Pence to take credit for the vaccine. The vaccine developers said they did not receive research funding from the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program.
While the world celebrates, Africa and other developing parts of the world will have to wait for more traditional vaccines in development, such as J&J’s candidates. Russia said after Pfizer’s announcement that its Sputnik is also 90% effective, based on data collated from inoculations of the public, and has promised to share with African countries.